The Ups and Downs of Service Learning

As a proud Pioneer, our motto: “Private University for the Public Good” is something that has resonated with me since my first quarter on campus. I internalized the idea that we are supposed to train and self-educate at school so we can then go into the world and make it a better place. I’ve always been impressed with how many of our students are involved in philanthropy, the way that our Greek community makes it a priority, and all of the opportunities that DU presents to involve ourselves in our surrounding community.

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However, things get a little sticky when you start taking that motto to the international community. What I mean by that is, I want to ‘help’ and I want to make the world ‘better’. How do I do that without stepping on the culture and identities of others? How can I help, internationally, without living out the negative criticisms of ‘voluntourism’

Last Winter Interterm I spent three weeks in Dharamsala, India, teaching English and computer skills to Tibetan refugee women. I signed up through DU’s International Service Learning programs, and went with a group of 15 DU Undergrad and Graduate students. We were a diverse group of students from all across campus, but all came together to study Tibetan Non-Violence, and to volunteer with a Dharamsala Non-Profit for the month of December.

My trepidation before the trip was whether or not my three weeks would actually matter to these women. I was concerned that I was going on this trip to make myself feel good about helping the world, regardless of whether or not I was actually even helping anyone. I bought into the idea that all of us university students are travelling internationally more for selfish reasons than to be selfless. I began to view my trip as just another exercise of privilege.

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I had a lot of inner turmoil about my choice, and suffered from a bit of self-hate as a voluntourist. However, after coming back from my trip, and after interacting with the community, I learned a few very encouraging things:

  1. Teaching IS helping. Regardless of the fact that I felt 3 weeks was not nearly enough to help anyone, it was three more weeks that those women could be in a classroom with a native English speaker. The Tibetan Women’s Association didn’t have any other teachers during December, so I was actually able to provide them with a tangible service they would have gone without, had I not been there.
  2. Good Intentions can create positive results. Many critics of voluntourism bring up the idiom that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. I get it. Maybe 18 year old college students with no trade skills aren’t necessarily better at building houses than local trained (but unemployed) carpenters. But… does that mean that we are useless? I don’t think so. I think that the services provided through non-profits often do greatly help communities.
  3. The power of story-sharing. Through interacting with the Tibetan refugee community, so many individuals repeated how cathartic and healing it can be to share their story. In a community facing oppression or expulsion from their home territory, these individuals have felt vindicated by receiving support from the international community. The opportunity to sit and let them tell me their story, no matter how serious or how silly, was enjoyable for me, and seemed immensely valuable to them. They knew that I couldn’t go home and demand political change from President Obama. But we could feel mutually satisfied through connecting with someone across cultures.

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After my experience living in India for 1 short month, I felt rejuvenated that we truly can make a difference, that DU students interacting with the international community can benefit everyone involved, and that I’m still proud as ever to be a Pio that takes my university experience beyond the borders of our campus.

Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

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Maximizing Your Happiness Abroad

I recently read a fascinating article on how to maximize your happiness (You can click here for the article). Essentially, the article reports that scientists have found the quest for happiness comes through experience, rather than material gains. In essence, we are happier when we DO more rather than OWN more.

Now, how does this relate to study abroad?

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Visiting Munich, Germany, where my high school friend was studying for the year

Studying and living abroad is an incredible experience by itself, and an investment worth making. Studies have shown that study abroad returnees report having higher confidence, experience better job placement, gained career interest from the experience, and much more (see one of many reports here). So, naturally, my first bit of advice for budgeting is to budget to study abroad, if you haven’t already. I highly doubt you’ll regret the experience.

So now you’re abroad. How do you make sure that your money is going to good use? Naturally, all college students have different budgets. Some can afford to live lavishly, others have to conserve their money very tightly. For those who are watching their purse strings a little more closely, here are a couple pointers that I found that really enriched my study abroad experience.

  1. BILLY MAYS HERE, I WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU GET SAVINGS, SAVINGS, SAVINGS!!!

I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help the infomercial joke. But seriously, know your exchange rate before you leave home and how much you can or want to spend. Cost of living could significantly increase or decrease abroad, so save everything you can before you go. I worked 3 part-time jobs the summer before I went abroad to help pay for it. Believe me, you’ll want every penny, and you can always do whatever you “missed out” on when you come home.

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Can you see the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona when you’re in Denver? No, no you can’t.

  1. Plan a list of adventures you would like to do during your time abroad

Anticipating and planning adventures is probably one of the most exciting things on the planet. Seriously, I have published a list of all the things I want to do in my life online (my bucket list), because I have way too much fun with this stuff. Know what you might want to do while you’re living abroad, whether that be backpacking Patagonia, attending a England-New Zealand rugby match at Wembley Stadium in London, going on a SCUBA diving trip along the Great Barrier Reef, walking the Camino de Santiago, or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro (I have friends who did all of these things). They knew they wanted to DO something special while they were abroad, and budgeted accordingly.

I planned to visit a Norwegian friend over Christmas before I left for abroad and got to explore the fjords

I planned to visit a Norwegian friend over Christmas before I left for abroad and got to explore the fjords

  1. Find atypical adventures

What I mean by this is that hopefully, at some point in your life, you’ll have the opportunity to be a tourist. When will you have the opportunity to LIVE abroad and have access to the little-known nooks and crannies of your continent? For me, this meant when I traveled, I wanted to go to atypical places. So, rather than see the Eiffel Tower and taking a picture of my finger touching the top of the Louvre’s pyramid in Paris, *cough* boring and cliché *cough*, I went to Croatia, cliff jumped in the Adriatic Sea, shared a 50cc scooter with my friend and travel buddy, Garret, and visited the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site Plitvice National Park. I DID something out of the ordinary, and it was the best traveling I did abroad.

It actually is that breathtakingly beautiful

Plitvice actually is that breathtakingly beautiful

  1. Have an it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that good things just happen around you. My friends and family call it “Spiro Luck”, because I have the uncanny ability to get a good break when I need it most. Many people refuse to play games with me anymore because of “Spiro Luck”, and perhaps my penchant for excessively celebrating after winning…

Back to my point, one of the things I found when I was abroad was that opportunities presented themselves, so plan for the unexpected. One of the craziest experiences I had while abroad was that I got to attend the Clasico, the biannual soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in Barcelona. I planned to be in the city for the match and to experience the atmosphere, but getting tickets were nigh impossible. That was until a miracle happened. A member of my travel group was accidentally given two tickets instead of one, and I got to go with him for a half-priced, nose-bleed ticket. Without having my it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund, I couldn’t have gone. Being at that game, where the glorious Barcelona won 2-1, was one of the most incredible experiences I had abroad. I still have to pinch myself to remember that it was real. Remember to have a little something to draw on if there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You won’t regret DOING it.

Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

  1. Find local adventures that are free, or at least cheap

Some of my best memories from studying abroad are those that didn’t cost me a dime. In my first week in Salamanca, Spain, I joined the local Ultimate Frisbee team, where I met many of my local friends from abroad, and had a fantastic, fun time practicing every Tuesday and Thursday. I played pick-up soccer every weekend and explored the culture of Salamanca. I jammed with a three good friends on the steps of the cathedral in Salamanca and got a crowd of other students to listen. I took the bus into Madrid and spent the day visiting the modern art museum, then walked around the city for hours. I took the train to Toledo for a day, just because I could. While not as eye-popping as the travel stories, they were the ones that truly defined my study abroad experience. What I DID was worth spending money on, unquestionably, and I didn’t need to always break the bank to make a lasting memory.

Goofing around the Royal Palace of Madrid, all for the price of a bus ticket

Goofing around the Royal Palace of Madrid, all for the price of a bus ticket

-Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assitant

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The Seven Wonders of China!

As determined by student who studied Abroad in China!

1. The Great Wall of China

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The Great Wall of China was built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern boarders of China during the 7th Century BC to protect China from invading enemies. This beautiful structure is now one of the most famous tourist sites in China, and still one of the most breathtaking. After a 45 minute stair climb up the face of a mountain, my friends and I arrived at the most preserved section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu, and it was breathtaking!

Once on the Wall, you get to explore the watch towers, see the ancient cannons, and experience what it would have been like to be a soldier, watcher on the wall! The Wall itself curves, rises, and falls with the mountain peaks and flows of the land. Made completely of stone, this wall stretches for 5,500 total miles, ending in the sea! The Great Wall of China has been declared as one of the Seven Wonders of World, and its grand beauty earns it a spot on our list!

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2. The Summer Palace, Beijing, China

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The Summer Palace consists of sprawling hills, Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. This Palace was created when Emperor Wanyan Liang moved the capital of the Jin Dynasty to Beijing and the lake was built to bring the sea to the emperor.

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On a Sunny day, the lake glistens and the beautiful ancient Chinese structures glow. Each building has its own unique designs that mirror the Jin Dynasty!

My friends and I are convinced that every tourist site in China is meant to give visitors a workout because the Summer Palace also involves some stair and hill climbing, however it is extremely worth it to see these manmade structures that have withstood thousands of years.

3. Mountains of Yangshou, Yunnan Province, China

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China7Located on the Li River, the town of Yangshou is surrounded by mountains, unlike any other in the world. Their unique and odd shapes create a landscape to remember. Each individual peak is its own mountain and they stick out of the ground like razor sharp teeth.

My Friends and I floated the Li River with old school wooden rafts and long bamboo sticks to guide us through the water. The fog that surrounded the mountains made it seem almost surreal and otherworldly.

4. The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China

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The Terracotta army are sculptures which depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, to protect him in the afterlife as a form of funerary art. The 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 520 horses that have been found so far date back to the 3rd century BCE. They are really old! Only 2 out of the four pits have been unearthed and continue to be excavated, so there may be thousands more than have gone undiscovered. This site is almost unbelievable and the soldiers themselves have uncanny resemblance to real human faces. Each soldier has its own unique facial features and hair styles to represent the living soldiers that protected the emperor in life.

China95. The Bund, Shanghai, China

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The Bund is a waterfront area in central Shanghai that houses some of the most unique and beautiful buildings in the world. My friends and I took a boat tour on the river to see both sides of the bund at night and the colors are stunning! Gotta love that neon!

These building are on an island that is accessible by a tunnel that goes under the ocean or a bridge. Some of the most famous skyscrapers include ‘The Pearl.” In this picture you can see the tallest building in the world, set to be finished in Fall 2015.

The picture below is the view from the 100th floor of the Financial Tower, the current tallest building in the world, until the tower next to it is finished anyway. It is insane realize our ability to build so high!

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6. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, China

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Quite literally, the clearest, bluest, and most beautiful lake I have ever seen rests at the foot of this small mountain range. Located in the Southern Province of Yunnan, the Dragon Snow Mountain is full of glacier peaks and valley grasslands.

With built in walkways and trees to hang your wishes in, this area is one you must see to believe and the lakes, pictured above and below are so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom both in crystal clear blue and a copper green, they are unlike anything else!

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7. ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, China

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Recognize these mountains? It is very likely that you do because this National Forest was the filming site for the Hallelujah Floating Mountains in the Blockbuster film, “Avatar.” These mountains are what inspired the world of Pandora for James Cameron, the Director of the movie, and they look like they came straight out of a science fiction movie.

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With mountain formations unlike any other in the world that were formed solely by water erosion over millions of years, these mountains top the list of 7 Wonders of China, as seen by a student who studied abroad there. Now go and Explore!

-Nicole Paulsen, Study Abroad Assistant

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Roots

I think I’ve always thought there was a fundamental difference between rooted people and the free birds of the world. One was boring and had no sense of adventure, and the other was the ideal, fluttering off wherever their heart desired and constantly investigating new corners of the world. They were diametric opposites. They had to be.

The massive York Minster cathedral in the center of town.

I’ve got that typical 20-something affliction of nomadism, of wanting to see and taste and feel as much of the world as I possibly can. I want to know for myself that the world is bigger than me, and I want to feel like a tiny dot on a map because if I don’t the main thing that occupies my world is my own big ego. Travel brings you down to size, makes you feel like a part of a whole, and that’s a pretty cool thing. So once the time came, I was eager to have my time to fly around the globe and get my feet on as many new grounds as possible.

Then I went on my exchange year to York, and I realized (again) how limiting this type of binaristic thinking is. Because by any standard, I am doing the “free bird” thing this year. I’ve spent two weeks at home since September of this past year, and won’t be home again until late June, and even then it will only be for a little while. I won’t be home for a long period of time until mid-August. My exchange year is fully 9 months, and after that I’ll spend another month in Arusha, Tanzania. So I feel a bit like that free spirited bird this year, London a 2-hour train ride away and the rest of mainland Europe a 2 hour flight.

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Helping to repaint a friend’s business with York friends. And trying not to cough too much from paint in the process!

But by some miracle, found myself able to put down strong roots in this goofy medieval town of York. I found friends here, good friends, friends who don’t hesitate to loan me an extra plate or an egg or a shoulder to lean on when I’m missing home. The community I found (and have helped to build on some level) here is a massive part of the fabric of my life abroad. So much so that England feels just like that-my life. Not an extended holiday. Not even study abroad anymore, honestly. My life. And it’s given me a new perspective on what I already knew in Colorado (but perhaps maybe didn’t realize as strongly as it’s been there my whole life)-that roots matter wherever you go. You can’t withstand any of the tough parts of your life without some roots to keep you standing. You can survive without any roots, sure. But do any of us really just want to live life surviving?

I want to thrive. I’m thriving in York. And I’m wondering if maybe there’s a little more balance to things than my black-and-white mind would have me believe. That it is possible to be well-traveled and well-rooted, and that those two things don’t have to cancel each other out.

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Sunset in York.

Sometimes, the best of both worlds is not a myth. Sometimes it just takes a bit of extra work to get there.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

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Emilie’s Korean Street Foods You Must Try

Koreans have a rich food culture. If you ever visit Korea, these street foods are all a must-try. As a foreigner, Koreans are very curious about what food you have tried and liked. “Yes I’ve tried soondae. Yes, it’s delicious!” When I answered yes to both of those questions I’d get extra brownie points from Koreans—you can too!

Tteokbokki-spicy rice cakes. I’m with a classmate walking to the subway after finishing a night class and we are both starving. My classmate spots a street food cart and drags me over with her. Tonight is Tteokbokki night!

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Tteokbokki is spicy, a little too spicy for my sensitive American tongue, but still delicious. I like rice cakes, but what I really enjoy are the pieces of odang (fish cake), green onions, cabbage, and egg—I love hard boiled eggs.

Soondae– blood sausage filled with glass noodles. The cold wind is pushing me around this evening after racquetball club practice. Once again, me and my friend are starving, and once again I am dragged over to the street food cart near the intersection in front of Yonsei University. Tonight is the night me to try soondae!

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Soondae is sometimes sold at the Tteokbokki carts, but there are also restaurants devoted to this food. It is often accompanied by lung and a salt/spice mixture seen above. In Korea many restaurants specialize in specific foods instead of serving a little bit of everything like an Applebee’s or Perkins would do in the U.S.

Egg Bread– egg baked inside a cornbread batter. It was Friday night, I was hungry, but didn’t want anything spicy or deep fried, and just wanted to get home to my bed without spending an hour at a restaurant eating. Then a magical sight appeared before my eyes at the next intersection.

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As someone who loved baking cookies, muffins, and brownies regularly, living in Korea for a year meant cravings for baked goods kept me company. I had been dreaming of corn bread for a while, and then got my fix on these amazing little egg bread ovals.

Hodduk– brown sugar and peanut filled pancake shaped pastries. I have a sweet tooth. It loves Hodduk. Basically you take a ball of dough, stuff a mixture of brown sugar and peanuts in the center, use a tool to flatten it on the griddle, and after a few flips there is a hot delicious pancake ready to be devoured.

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Gold Fish Pastries– red bean filled pastries. First of all, red bean is a thing you need to know about in Asia. It’s sweet and is used in desserts and is delicious. Don’t hate on red bean.

These gold fish pastries are made what I could consider a fish shaped waffle maker. They come out hot and are delightful on the fall and winter days they are sold.

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There you have it! Emilie’s top must-try Korean street foods. There are many other great street foods too—some are out year-round and others are seasonal; squid, chicken in a cup, waffles, and sweet potatoes are common. If I missed your favorite, please leave us a comment with what you love about your favorite street food.

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The Perks of Living in the Middle East

  1. History

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No matter where you are, there is history on every corner. Not just “oh this happened 200 years ago…” more like “back in the days of the first major civilizations in history over a few thousand years ago…”

Amazing architecture surrounds you, wherever you go.

  1. Scenery:

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Camping trips in the desert are amazing, and oasis cities are very relaxing. Sand boarding is amazing and riding a jeep up and down sand tunes is probably one of the best thrills anyone will experience.

  1. Food:

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Great coffee can be found anywhere you go! Also, shwarma is a staple and can be found at any restaurant or street vendor.

  1. Activities:

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Huka is inexpensive and better than anything you can find in the U.S.

Inshallah and Ma3lish is a life philosophy. So if something doesn’t happen immediately, that’s OK. Take your time and enjoy life each day, stuff will get done in its own time.

  1. Weather:

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It is always warm, you only need clothing for nice sunny weather and don’t have to worry about packing winter clothes.

  1. Friendship:

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Everyone is very friendly and social. Also, when someone calls you a friend, they mean it! Friendships are important in the Middle East.

– Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant

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A Returnee’s Guide to Surviving Reverse Culture Shock

Being on my own for so long made me forget what it was like to be surrounded by my loved ones all the time. When I finally did come back home to my loved ones, it seemed so different. It is not because I was sad that I was home, but rather I wanted to be left alone because that was how I lived and grew as a person for the last 4 months in a country unlike the United States in almost every way. Reverse culture shock is real, and for me, it was hard to handle on my own.

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I studied abroad in Beijing, China at Peking University for four months in the Fall of 2014. It was the best and the most challenging experience of my life, but it was more than worth it in every aspect. The culture, the language, and the food were like nothing we experience here in America; its like China was a whole new world just waiting to be discovered.

After being home for 2 months now, I have found some things to help the transition back to life both in America but also here at the University of Denver.

Take Time to Reflect:

It already seems as though my time abroad was a dream, if it were not for the reminder of all the great pictures that I took. Spend some time reflecting on your own about your experience, especially considering what you learned from it. Take this time to relive the memories, go through all your pictures, and contemplate how you felt about the overall experience. This helped me better understand what differences I appreciated about China, and the specific parts of my journey that really mattered to me; maybe it will help you in even more ways!

Find Your 2 Minute Short Story:

You will be asked by almost everyone (family, friends, Facebook followers, random neighbors, old co-workers, distant relatives, even dogs if they could talk) how your time abroad was and what your favorite memories were. I had to answer this question so many times it started to just become routine. Many times, the questions were just in passing so I picked a couple cool experiences and a few difficult ones to tell people about that really summed up my trip. Finding your study abroad short story will save you time, and brain power; it allows you to tell your story on your own terms, so enjoy!

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Stay Connected with Your Friends from Abroad:

It is easy to fall out of contact with people, especially when you live in different states, and even different countries. Making the effort to chat and catch up with friends from abroad is very rewarding. Sometimes I just needed to chat with Lily because she was a part of the story about getting lost in the mountains in Southern China and finding our, or understand the hardship of being abroad as well as coming back home. They can be the greatest resource for you, as well as the best life-long friend. Getting back in touch with your friends from home and DU is equally important! Be sure to surround yourself with people who love you, care about you, and understand you

Find a New Routine to Help You readjust:

Sometimes familiar can be helpful when trying to adjust back to life at DU. Having a familiar routine that fits your desires and needs makes things seem a bit more normal. This can be going back to activities you did before you went abroad as well as joining new groups based off your experience abroad. Coming back onto campus, I continuing my work with the debate team for a sense of familiarity while also joining a sustainability group on campus to advocate for better environmental efforts on campus; I never want the city to be as polluted as Beijing was.

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Tread Water, Don’t Dive into the Deep End:

Instead of jumping in and joining a bunch of clubs, taking a full course load, and finding a job; try to ease your transition back to life in the U.S. by making a little bit easier schedule. Take three class for winter quarter, be a member of a club rather than the leader of it, or work less hours at a part time job. The transition back is not easy, so make some time for yourself and enjoy being back!

-Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

 

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